Before its bankruptcy, Chrysler was known as the car company with a flair for the unorthodox -- for being a little more playful and irreverent than its more buttoned up competitors.
Chrysler drove Grand Cherokees through the windows of Cobo Center, flew minivans through the air and unleashed a herd of steers in front of the Detroit auto show to introduce a redesigned Dodge Ram pickup.
Now Chrysler is bidding farewell to a prominent symbol of that more carefree era: its media blog, www.thefirehouse.biz is shutting down Wednesday.
Chrysler used the blog as a means of communicating with journalists in a loose, unconventional way that had more personality than the traditional carefully worded press release.
One early post, called “Friday Night Gotta Go,” was a tongue-in-cheek explanation of the company's factory potty break policy vs. that of a non-UAW competitor. “Our union-represented assembly production workers can take up to 46 minutes a shift for bathroom breaks. The transplants generally allow only 30. That's quite a difference in, um, line speed.”
Thefirehouse.biz was an extension of the personality Jason Vines, Chrysler's vice president of public affairs at the time. Vines, a former standup comedian, was a natural provocateur with a showman's flair. He wasn't inclined to turn the other cheek when his company came under fire. Vines and his compatriots occasionally used thefirehouse.biz to shoot back at reporters whose coverage it deemed unfair.
But Vines has long since moved on, and Fiat now runs Chrysler. Ed Garsten, the keeper of the thefirehouse.biz, said social media has changed the landscape since Chrysler launched the blog in September 2005.
“While still depending on the press for important coverage of our company, we're now able to also promote our news, positions, and products directly to the public through social media without waiting, hoping the media will pick up particular stories or angles that benefit us.”
The blog took its name from The Firehouse, a brick Detroit Fire Department firehouse across from Detroit's Cobo Center that Chrysler would rent during every auto show. There, Chrysler execs like Dieter Zetsche and Tom LaSorda would serve drinks and food to the journalists who flocked there after hours, a goodwill gesture that didn't go unnoticed.
Budget constraints forced Chrysler to shut down the real firehouse a couple of years ago. Now the virtual one has followed it into oblivion.